By David M. Greenwald
On Wednesday, the Vanguard reported that Yolo County Deputy DA David Wilson saw a murder conviction overturned when he misstated the law, misrepresenting the law to a jury in a murder trial. Nevertheless, he was hired by Yolo County in the fall of 2019.
In a new filing this week—a motion to suppress—by Yolo County Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt he alleges that Deputy DA Wilson “misstated” and “twisted” facts in a police report in a case involving a welfare check on an 86-year-old woman and her 61-year-old son.
The incident occurred on March 6 when Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies responded for a welfare check at a residence in Madison after family members expressed concern about the living and care conditions that the elderly woman was living under.
The deputies ended up detaining the man, handcuffing him and placing him in a patrol vehicle. They entered the home to do a “protective sweep” and found multiple firearms and gun holsters in a bedroom closet.
A search warrant was executed and deputies found firearms, ammunition, and drug paraphernalia, leading to the arrest of the man on charges of felony possession of a firearm and drug paraphernalia.
Van Zandt filed a motion suppress, arguing that warrantless searches “are per se unreasonable” and that the search in this instance “cannot be justified as a protective sweep” because “deputies entered and looked in each room of the home before obtaining a search warrant. No amount of probable cause can justify a warrantless search and seizure absent consent or exigent circumstances.”
Van Zandt continues: “Warrantless searches by police are invalid unless they fall under one of the narrow well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement.”
He adds, “There are no articulable facts that could have led deputies to reasonably suspect there were any other people in the home that posed a danger to them.” He continues that, with both residents out of the home and in the custody of the police, “there are no facts determining deputies had an objective basis for suspecting the home harbored an individual who posed a danger to those on scene. The entry into the home cannot be justified as a protective sweep. Moreover, any observations made by deputies during this entry into the house could not be used to justify any further searches of the home.”
In response, Deputy DA David Wilson argues: “Officers making an arrest in a home may, without a warrant, cursorily search areas of the home in which people might be hiding to ensure officer safety until they can complete the arrest and depart. This protective sweep is limited to a quick visual inspection of spaces where a person might be found.”
The court here must “consider the totality of the circumstances” where the defendant in this case “was a long-time meth user and had a history of mental health issues.”
He justifies this, noting, “The Defendant had warned the family members about taking the Victim hostage.”
However, the police report suggests a somewhat different account.
The police report, according to Van Zandt’s supplemental filing, reads, “I had also found that (defendant) had been convicted of false imprisonment in the past. This played into the decisions related to contacting (defendant) with (victim) present inside the residence.”
The report from Deputy Gary Richter continued, “Due to this information, and the information from YCSO and APS regarding (defendant) not allowing law enforcement access into the resident, I believed that there was an inherent danger of (defendant) refusing to allow access to the residence, locking deputies out of the house with (victim) inside, and the possibility of (defendant) taking (victim) hostage.”
Notice there was no mention of an actual threat from the defendant to take the victim hostage.
In addition, Van Zandt writes, “The District Attorney twisted around another portion of the police report. In his brief, opposing counsel alleged, “Deputies on the prior occasion had been warned about the possibility of booby traps inside the residence.”
But in point of fact, the report from Deputy Richard reads, “During the incident in 2014, I learned that prior to deputies’ contact with Bertram on that call or service, Yolo County Dispatch had advised deputies that Bertram may be in possession of firearms and that there were possibly booby traps in the front yard of the residence.”
As Van Zandt points out, this is not a small error. He writes, “In a case where the issue is the validity of a protective sweep, that’s quite a fact to get wrong.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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